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Kenneth van Wyk: Shutting down security gotchas in iOS 6

Kenneth van Wyk | Sept. 25, 2012
What to do if you have data on your iPhone or other iOS device that you want to protect.

I and many of my fellow iOS users spent some time last week upgrading our iPhones, iPads and/or iPod Touches. If you are among those people, or even if you're one of the cautious souls who decided to wait before downloading iOS 6, you probably want to know what security gotchas await and what you can do to keep from getting burned.

First off -- and admittedly this is true of all iOS devices, not just those upgraded to iOS 6 -- the single most important thing you as a consumer can do to protect your data on your iOS device is to use a strong passcode. (Go to Settings --> General --> Passcode Lock, then "Turn Passcode On" and turn OFF the "Simple Password" toggle.)

While you're on that Passcode Lock screen, you might also want to tweak the Require Passcode setting by selecting a brief period of time before the device locks itself. "Brief" can be as short as "immediate." The downside is that you have to enter your passcode every time you let your device rest a bit. It's a trade-off between convenience and security. I suggest going with as short a time period as you can stand. Start short, then turn it up a bit if it really annoys you.

Why does this matter? Why isn't a four-digit PIN adequate? Because a lost or stolen device with a weak passcode puts all the data stored on the device at risk, as well as anything on iCloud or other network services you use.

And the passcode isn't just for locking and unlocking the device. It is used as part of the encryption key for data on the device (such as your email and app data that has "full protection"). If you use a simple PIN, an attacker won't have a hard time breaking that encryption and getting to your most sensitive stuff.

Of course, using a real passcode can be massively annoying. I use passcodes on my own iOS devices, and I'm not going to pretend it's never annoying. But that annoyance is nothing compared to the pain of having your data compromised. If the data on your device matters to you, there is no better single thing you can do as a consumer to protect it (other than not having the data on the device in the first place).

I also recommend turning off access to Siri and Passbook when your device is locked. This will prevent an attacker from getting into a lot of your data; if Siri can be accessed from a locked device, then an attacker could just say, "Siri, what appointments do I have today?" for example. I write more about Passbook below, but if you're using it for anything important (such as payments or boarding passes), this setting will prevent an attacker from getting access to that data when the device is locked. Note that these are not the default settings, so you need to change them if you want to lock attackers out in this way. (Both of these things can be done on the Passcode Lock screen of General Settings.)


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